LEXINGTON, Ky. – Ben Heppler looked around Rupp Arena with wide-eyed wonder as his Covington Catholic teammates were cutting down the nets following a 59-51 overtime win against Scott County in the championship game of the boys’ state basketball tournament on Sunday.
“This is pretty special,” the senior forward said. “I’m just trying to soak it all in. I’ll remember this for the rest of my life.”
The Colonels won their first state basketball title in dramatic fashion before a crowd of 14,165 that included a huge contingent of CovCath fans.
RELATED: See images from the game
After trailing by as much as 13 points in the first half, CovCath battled back and tied the score at 47-47 to send the game into overtime.
During the extra period, senior point guard Nick Ruthsatz, the son of CovCath’s head coach, stepped up to lead his team to the victory.
After scoring on an acrobatic drive to the basket, Ruthsatz made a steal that resulted in a stick-back basket by junior forward Bo Schuh to give the Colonels a 53-51 lead.
Ruthsatz was fouled after pulling down a defensive rebound and made a pair of three throws that extended the margin to 55-51 with 57 seconds left.
CovCath reserve guard Parker Keller clinched the win by making two free throws with 39 seconds left and Heppler scored on a breakaway layup to give the Colonels the eight-point victory.
“This is all about the heart we have,” Ruthsatz said of the comeback victory. “That’s a big part of why we win. We don’t have the best players, but with our chemistry we play well together.”
After the big plays Ruthsatz made in the overtime period, no one in the arena was surprised when he was named most valuable player on the state all-tournament team.
But the 5-foot-9 guard deserved the honor because he was a driving force in all four of CovCath’s state tournament victories. His four-game totals included a team-high 91 points, 23 assists and 19 rebounds.
“It means a lot to me,” Ruthsatz said of being the first CovCath player named most valuable player in the state tournament. “But I‘ve got to give (credit) to my teammates. Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to get here.”
Ruthsatz had 25 points, six rebounds and five assists in the state championship game. Senior center Mark Schult scored 12 points and Schuh pulled down a team-high 12 rebounds for the Colonels (33-2).
CovCath’s defensive standout was freshman Cole Von Handorf. His assignment was to guard Scott County senior shooting guard Trent Gilbert, who scored 30, 29 and 36 points in the Cardinals’ first three tournament games.
Gilbert only got 10 points against CovCath. He was 4-of-25 from the field, including a missed shot in the final seconds of regulation that could have won the game.
“Once again, they put me on the other team’s best scorer, and I loved it,” Von Handorf said. “They told me if I shut him down we’d win, so I went out and tried my best.”
Von Handorf fouled out late in the fourth quarter and Gilbert made a 3-pointer in overtime to give his team a 50-49 lead. But the Cardinals only made one free throw after that.
“You’ve got to admire Covington Catholic,” said Scott County coach Billy Hicks. “Those kids made plays and hung in there. We could’ve put them away early, but they hung around and got on a roll to win the game.”
After taking a 9-3 lead on a basket by Schult, CovCath went nearly nine minutes without scoring. During that span, the Colonels committed seven turnovers and went 0-for-13 from the field.
But the score remained close until Scott County buried four 3-point shots during the final three minutes of the first quarter to take a 17-9 lead. Junior guard Hines Jones hit three of those treys and Gilbert got the other one.
CovCath continued to have problems putting the ball in the basket during the second quarter and Scott County led by as much as 13 points. But Schuh made a free throw and Ruthsatz scored off a steal to cut it to 27-18 at halftime.
The halftime stats were riddled with bad numbers for the Colonels. They shot a dismal 27.3 percent (6 of 22) from the field, committed seven turnovers and were outrebounded by a 21-13 margin during the first 16 minutes.
“We were getting open shots, we were just missing them,” Heppler said. “We knew if we kept moving the ball and getting those good shots they would eventually fall. And we knew we had to step up our defensive game, too.”
In the second half and overtime, CovCath shot 52.3 percent (11 of 21) from the field and made 15 of 19 free throws to fuel its comeback. Ruthsatz scored 20 of his 25 points to lead the rally. He made four pressure-packed free throws late in fourth quarter to tie the score at 47-47 and send the game into overtime.
The Colonels outscored the Cardinals, 12-4, in the four-minute overtime period to become
only the third 9th Region team to claim the most coveted trophy in Kentucky high school sports.
After the final horn sounded, the CovCath players came to one end of the court and applauded their large contingent of fans that included hundreds of their classmates wearing bright blue shirts.
“That’s the sixth man that we have as an advantage,” CovCath coach Scott Ruthsatz said of the boisterous student cheering section known as the Colonel Crazies. “I wish I could buy them all state championship rings, but I’m not sure that’s in the budget.”
Coach Ruthsatz also commented on sharing the historic victory with his son.
“It’s so special I can’t even put it into words,” he said. “If I keep talking about it, I know I’m going to drop some tears.”
COVCATH 9-9-10-19-12 – 59
SCOTT CO. 17-10-9-11-4 – 51
COVCATH (33-2): Ruthsatz 6 10 25, Schult 5 2 12, Von Handorf 2 4 9, Heppler
3 0 8, Schuh 1 1 3; Keller 0 2 2. Totals 17 19 59.
SCOTT COUNTY (35-4): Jones 7 1 18, Martini 6 4 16, Gilbert 4 0 10, Long 2 0 4,
Kendred 0 2 2, Murray 0 1 1. Totals: 19 8 51.
Three-point goals: CC – Ruthsatz 3, Heppler 2, Von Handorf. SC – Hines 3, Gilbert 2.
STATE ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM
CovCath – Nick Ruthsatz (MVP), Cole Von Handorf, Mark Schult. Scott County – Tony Martini, Hines Jones, Trent Gilbert. Bowling Green – Joseph Ayers, Tucker Sine. Louisville Trinity – Trey Ivory, Greg Owens. Bardstown – LJ Cowherd. Hopkinsville – Tra Edwards. Johnson Central – Shane Hall. McCracken County – Cam Chumbler.